Through empathetic communication, we can break tension and anger and we can gain an understanding of how someone came to hold the view they do: how they may feel alienated, frightened or misunderstood. From this comes the ability to dismantle those real barriers and support that person going forward.
Empathy to the ‘other’ does not undermine a movement’s credibility, in fact, it is integral to it.
The ‘otherness’ thickens and the people we may see as opposition becomes an even more distant enemy, one more likely to stand steely in their position as they come under hateful attack. Instead of softening, through person to person connection, understanding, nuance, we both harden. The divide between environmentalists and climate deniers, vegans and farmers, women and those who are sexist becomes larger, and every inch farther it pulls, the farther we are from a world in which we can live harmoniously – even if not all the time, a little more.
I do believe there is good in everyone. I do not believe that the vast majority of people are bad, they just do not realise the immense suffering their actions can cause. People are capable of change, of introspection, of compassion, whatever that may look like. There are people of all sorts, who have, through compassion, not hate, seen a better way and taken it.
Maybe being empathetic or compassionate to someone won’t change them or what they believe, and it sometimes won’t. But I’m unsure of a time that being kind hasn’t been the right choice. I do not believe you can effectively stand for peace and justice if you do not do so non-violently, and violence exists beyond the physical.
Every time we have a chance to be understanding and caring, we have a chance to make the world a tiny bit better – we should take that chance, every time we can.